Practice Emphasis On Jump Starting Offense

Jump starting the running game is one of the keys to this week's practices for the Florida Gators which means the emphasis in practices on Monday and Tuesday has been getting things straight on the offensive line and at the tailback position. The Gators went full pads on Monday, a departure from their normal routine, and they followed that up with their usual "Bloody Tuesday" practice that Meyer has previously described as two and a half hours of total intensity.

Getting the offensive line straight is made more difficult by the injury situation, particularly at the guard position. Tavares Washington has been slowed by a sprained elbow and a bruised shoulder. The shoulder took him out of last week's Alabama game in the first quarter. Jim Tartt re-dinged his shoulder in the Alabama game and he also bruised some ribs. Both are expected back this week. Also, center Mike Degory has been slowed by some injuries.

"We had two guys (Washington and Tartt) who got hurt in the first half against Alabama that didn't come back," said Meyer after Tuesday's practice. "Then you have Drew Miller and (Steve) Rissler … Rissler actually played pretty good. Mike Degory has an MCL and an ankle so he didn't practice again today but he'll be back tomorrow, so we're still juggling so I can't tell you who will start on the offensive line this week, not yet."

Meyer indicated at Monday's media day that the competition to start at tailback is wide open. He said then that redshirt freshman Markus Manson, who is from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, would be given a real shot to compete for the starting position. Manson has gained 101 yards (5.3 yards per carry) in mop-up duty so far. He has the most speed and breakaway ability of the four scholarship tailbacks on the roster.

Prior to this week's practices, Meyer had said that when Manson starts taking care of the ball in practice, which means avoiding fumbles, he would see the playing field. Last week, he said that Manson was as close to starting as he's ever been.

Tuesday, Meyer said that Manson's practice "was a positive" and noted that the coaching staff is "putting him through game situations to see how he reacts." Translate that to every time Manson touches the ball, the defense is being urged to try to strip it from him and if Manson holds onto the ball, expect him to see a lot of playing time on Saturday.

The need for Manson's burst of speed became so apparent in last Saturday's 31-3 loss to Alabama, particularly at the goal line on the first play of the second quarter when DeShawn Wynn didn't hit the hole particularly hard and was stuffed short of a touchdown that would have gotten Florida back into the ball game.

For the season, Wynn has 241 yards and five rushing touchdowns plus a couple of touchdowns on pass receptions.

TUESDAY EMPHASIS: Meyer said that the emphasis for Tuesday's practice was fundamentals on defense and blocking on offense. It's obvious the coach is looking for sharp practices to prep for Saturday's homecoming game against Mississippi State.

"It was a good day, a hard one, same as past Tuesdays," he said. "A big emphasis on fundamentals, evaluate why you lost that game. Obviously the team we played was on their game and they played well but we missed 18 tackles and didn't block well. You're not going to win many more games if you do that."

Meyer said he wasn't concerned about his secondary, believing "they'll bounce back. Up until this point they were one of the best secondaries in the country. A couple of great throws and a couple of missed tackles and now we're not a very good secondary so they gotta get back. They have to. They're one of the strong points of our team." On offense, Meyer also indicated that there is some tweaking going on with the scheme and with the personnel.

"We've tried to modify it [offense] to our personnel and we also put a lot of pressure on our personnel to play a little better," he said.

The basics of what the staff does this week hasn't changed although there was full contact on Monday, a day when the team usually practices in shells, helmets and shorts. Even though there was contact, the emphasis was on resolving issues from the Alabama game.

"You coach them the same pretty much but you even turn it up more when you win," said Meyer. "When you lose you have to fix the problems but when you win you think you have all the answers.

"If I had to do that Alabama week all over again and I heard (Jeremy) Mincey say what he said and heard some of the things, that's when you ratchet up the intensity. We're always intense at practice but you have to fix the problems."

BAKER STEPPED IT UP: Dallas Baker had his most productive game ever as a Gator against Alabama with six catches for 119 yards including a 42-yard reception that included about 18 yards after the catch of sheer effort. Baker now has 22 catches for 277 yards. He had only 25 catches all of 2004.

Offensive Coordinator Dan Mullen noted that Baker has worked hard to put together a total package of both blocking and receiving, and the result Saturday against Bama was the best game any Gator wide receiver has turned in this year.

"Dallas Baker played the best that I've seen him this last game," said Mullen. "It was the best any of our receivers has played all season last game. As a total player, he just stepped it up."

Baker was the fourth Florida receiver to turn in a 100-yard plus receiving game, joining Chad Jackson, Andre Caldwell and Jemalle Cornelius. Cornelius had a big game against Kentucky the week before with 138 receiving yards while Jackson leads the SEC with 40 catches for 455 yards and six touchdowns for the season.

Mullen said that opposing defenses typically try to take one player out of the game but that's when another wide receiver should have a chance to step his game up.

"Every week they're going to try to take somebody away from you and they're going to leave somebody else singled up," said Mullen, who also pointed out that it is more difficult to double up on Jackson since he plays an inside slot position.

The Gators are also trying to find a fourth receiver in the offense. The injury to Caldwell (broken leg) forced Cornelius stepped into that role in the offense. The role of the fourth receiver is now a battle between Kenneth Tookes and Gavin Dickey, although freshman Nyan Boateng is showing signs of readiness and Mike McIntosh is being given a shot at earning some playing time.

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